I used to change my name a lot as a kid. I tried on every nickname variable I could think of, signing my stories and sometimes my homework with pseudo-pseudonyms – recognizable, but just a little different. The nameplates in the notebooks of my childhood bear witness to this, with Danielle, Danni, Dani, Dannie, Danie, Dany, Danny, DaniElle, scrawled in loopy cursive letters. In seventh grade French class, everyone adopted a new name en francaise, so for awhile I called myself Dominique.
Sometimes, usually when I was particularly angsty about my parents’ divorce, I even switched up my last name – Cotter became Connolly Cotter, or just Connolly.
After my Catholic confirmation I started telling people I was Danielle Marie Theresa Connolly Cotter, squeezing my newly acquired confirmation name into an already expanding string of monikers used by exactly no one – except me.
Other names went further afield. My “Connolly” phase happened to overlap with my “Dominique” phase, so I can understand my teachers’ confusion at suddenly receiving papers attributed to someone named Dominique Connolly, who had never before appeared in class. Friends began to call me Carrot, after I sputtered that I couldn’t wait to go on “Carrots of the Piribbean” instead of Pirates of the Caribbean on our choir trip to Disney World.
When the Internet first became a household thing, I started writing Star Wars fan fiction as though it was my job, and eventually I took on my stories’ main character, Mairead, as an online persona. (Why a Gaelic name in a galaxy far, far away? You would be forgiven for asking, so please forgive me for not being able to explain what I was thinking at the keyboard at age 12.)
At one point I decided my AIM name, pigsforpoland, should inspire my future pen name, and so the stories I submitted online used P. F. Poland as a nom de guerre. (For the record, I still think this is a pretty good idea, so if you ever see a novel with that author listed, you’ll be in on my secret.)
When I got married, it never occurred to me to keep my maiden name. I finally nabbed Jon Griggs, after a decade and a half of crushing on him (jk, I kept myself pretty busy in college, as anyone who knows me in real life knows well) – no way was I not taking his name.
I do, however, occasionally sneak my maiden name in before my married one, because Danielle Cotter Griggs is someone with a decent performance resume, and I don’t want to lose my actor/singer street cred.
These days I have a new name. I hear it easily 2,000 times a day. It, too, has variations, although instead of reflecting differences in my own persona du jour, these changes differ depending on the child, and the child’s mood, and what the child is requesting.
“Mumma,” “mummy,” “mom.” Sometimes “mommy poop pants” if our middle girl is being very fresh. It’s often followed by phrases like, “Can I…” or “Can you…” or “I want…” or “(insert name here) is (insert offense here)!”
I’ve noticed this name is used more carefully, when it follows “thank you,” and “I missed you,” and “I love you.” Sometimes it’s yelled out the door after me as I’m leaving. Sometimes it’s whispered in the dark, when my youngest takes a break from nursing to sleep, usually with a kiss on my cheek and a quick snuggle.
Sometimes my name is a flag in the sand, territory demarcated. “MY mumma,” one says. “No, MYYYYYY mumma!” the other screams, both tackling me as the precursor to an all-out, WWE-style throw down.
You will notice this tussle leaves no territory left for ME. I am everyone’s mumma, and I am very rarely Danielle. When someone does use my old name, the girls become enraged. How dare someone use such an outdated word to describe me? It’s like when they see a baby picture of me and demand to know where THEY are in this whole situation.
But my name, my first name, is still with me, and so are all the other names I’ve adopted along the way. I feel them layered inside me, like Russian nesting dolls, and I hear their echoes, whispering in my ear.
Someday my girls will remember these names, or at least most of them. Maybe they’ll even use them, like when I call my dad by his first name as a joke. If I am so lucky, and if they are so moved, maybe they will write these names on a birth certificate, giving my aliases to a grandchild. Someday, someday hopefully far far in the future, my girls will write these names on a prayer card, or an obituary, or a gravestone.
It’s a sobering thought but also a comforting one. The names I have used and the people I have been can fade into the past and yet echo into the future. There’s no need to worry that some vital piece of me is gone, because it will all circle back, like ripples in an infinite pond.
This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in the series “A Name”.